THE corsetiere deals not merely with visible flesh–The invisible visceral system -The bony frame–The chest cavity–The abdominal cavity–The pelvic cavity–Muscles and their "tone"–Posture and health–Constriction not the aim of corsetry–Resisting the pull of gravity.
FIG. 24. THE POSITION OF THE ORGANS IN THE BODY
The correctness or otherwise of the corset has a close bearing upon the health of the important organs covered by it. 1. Heart; 2. Left lung; 3. Right lung; 4. Diaphragm muscle; 5. Liver 6. Stomach 7. Gall bladder; 8. Small intestine; 9. Colon.
No two women's figures are exactly alike when it comes to fitting a corset on them, yet they are all made from the same pattern, with the same number of bones arranged in the same relation, held by the same varieties of muscle, enclosing the same assortment of visceral organs for digestion, circulation and so forth, and linked up by the same arrangement of nerves. The corset fitter must have some general knowledge of the plan of the human body, so that she can assess her customer's needs and understand what she is doing to the body when she pulls in a lace here or arranges a matter of uplift there. She must realize that she is not merely dealing with visible flesh. Much the most important effect of her ministrations will be felt behind the flesh, in the invisible muscular and visceral systems of the woman with whom she is dealing (Fig. 24).
The body works so interestingly that the student fitter will find herself fascinated by this aspect of her work. If she is sent by her firm, as is likely if she shows promise, to a school of corsetry, she will certainly hear there one or two lectures on the anatomy of the human body, but she should equip herself from the very start of her employment with some general information, for it is the basis of understanding in her work.
The bony frame has four natural curves–in at the back of the neck, out at the shoulders, in again at the waist, and out at the seat. These curves give the body its balance and are beautiful and graceful; but one of the commonest conditions which the corset fitter has to try to correct in her customers is a loss of what may be termed "body balance," which prevents a woman from holding herself correctly Fig. as).
This loss of "balance," or "poise," can result from a variety of causes–from weakness of muscles, or over-accumulation of fat under the skin or around certain of the internal organs, or from childbirth or illness.
In the case, for instance, of a woman suffering from an enlarged and abnormally fat abdomen, the centre of gravity (C.G.) of the body is displaced. Instead of running down the axis of the body, the C.G. has moved forward. To counteract this, the woman leans back against the pull of the abdomen. She walks on her heels. The arch of the small of the back is increased. The line of the head, neck and chest is no longer vertical but is inclined backwards.
Correct corseting can do a great deal to remedy these faults of posture by correctly supporting the sagging and protruding part of the body and bringing it back as nearly as possible to normal position, thereby shifting the C.G. back to the axis and restoring the natural poise of the body. It is essential to a fitter to be equipped with a certain knowledge of anatomy so that she may recognize abnormal symptoms. She must know where the important organs of the body are placed and understand what is likely to happen to them when through tiredness, illness, or an abnormal increase of weight a woman ceases to be able to hold herself correctly.
The trunk of the body may be thought of as a bony frame enclosing three cavities–
(1) the chest cavity, or thorax, which is separated by the diaphragm or midriff from
(2) the abdominal cavity;
(3) the pelvis, which, though generally described as a separate cavity, is directly continuous with that of the abdomen.
The chest cavity is enclosed by part of the backbone, the breast bone at the front, and the ribs (of which there are twelve pairs) at the sides. Below it is the diaphragm–a domed muscular partition shaped rather like the top of a mushroom and of great importance in breathing. By reducing its domed shape it increases the cavity of the chest, facilitating the intake of air into the lungs.
Inside the chest are the lungs, with the greater part of the windpipe, the heart and the great blood vessels associated with it in the circulation of the blood, and the æsophagus, or food passage, which runs downward through the neck and the chest cavity and pierces the diaphragm to open into the stomach.
Much the most important cavity for the corset fitter to consider is the abdominal cavity, which, unlike the chest cavity, is only partially bounded by a rigid bony structure, so that the important organs within it have to rely for protection on the muscles, and so are more apt to become misplaced. The young fitter will at once appreciate how important the correct corseting of this region is when she learns that the cavity contains the stomach, large and small intestines, liver, spleen, pancreas, kidneys, ureter, and bladder; also, in women, the uterus and ovaries.
The stomach lies high up in the cavity, in contact with the diaphragm. It is not a sagging bag, as might be imagined, but an extremely strong muscular organ and, incidentally, the only part of the food passage which dilates. It holds two pints comfortably, but can dilate to hold six pints; and naturally, when the stomach is much distended, it changes its position considerably, and alters the position of other organs around it. The outward contours of the body will, of course, alter in consequence, and it is easy to see why corseting which restricts the normal dilatation of the stomach is harmful.
The liver, a large fleshy organ weighing, in the average adult person, somewhere about three-and-a-half pounds, also lies in the upper part of the abdomen, where it is mostly covered by the right lower ribs.
The greater part of the cavity is occupied by the intestines. There are six feet of the large intestine and twenty feet of the small intestine, which lies very tightly coiled with the large intestine round and over it like an inverted U.
The pelvis, or lower part of the abdomen, gets its name, which means a basin, from the shape of its bony framework. The pelvis connects the lower limbs with the spine and all the weight of the upper body is transmitted via the pelvis to the lower limbs.
The pelvis differs considerably in the two sexes. In women the basin is shallower and broader, and has characteristics important in the bearing of children.
The framework is made up of the two innominate bones at the back, with the end bones of the spine, and the pubic bones in front. The very strong muscular floor of the cavity has, in women, three perforations (one more than in men)–the urethra, the rectum, and the vagina. The bladder, the rectum, and the reproductive organs lie in this cavity, and good muscle tone, allied with good posture, is of the greatest importance, as without it there is grave danger that the pelvic organs may suffer a prolapse.
From the corsetière's point of view, the abdominal muscles are the most important ones in the whole body. They stretch in all directions, in a most complicated criss-cross manner, and are very powerful. They protect the whole front of the body, from the ribs right down to the pubic bones (Fig. 26).
The degree of "tone" in these muscles is extremely important, for on their healthiness and strength depends whether the organs o£ the abdomen are kept in place. Loss of tone in the abdominal muscles may very easily lead to the dropping of the abdominal organswhich the force of gravity is always tending to pull down–con-sequently affecting seriously such functions as the passing of urine and, of course, the bearing of children.
Besides giving support, the abdominal muscles afford protection to the vital organs behind them. The student may easily test the importance of "tone" in this connection for herself, by contracting her abdominal muscles and then giving herself a light blow. If the muscles are in good tone, she will feel the blow no deeper than the surface of her body. A blow given over weak muscles, or when the recipient is off guard, will be felt deep down in the organs and may completely wind her.
. The corsetière soon comes to think of her customers in terms of their "postural tone." Good posture helps to keep the muscles firm and, equally, firm muscles are necessary to good posture–it works both ways. If the muscles are flabby, after illness or childbearing, the posture will be bad and the health of the internal organs will sooner or later suffer impairment; but harm can be done just as easily as a result of bad posture which is due to nothing more than carelessness.
The abdominal muscles are used constantly in breathing, and during such actions as vomiting, coughing, passing urine, and emptying the bowels; and they play a big part during labour, so that their health and tone is of the utmost importance all through life. If their tone has been lost, from whatever cause, the body needs the help of a well fitted corset of appropriate firmness and strength.
The object of good corsetry is not constriction. Nature intended the organs of the abdominal cavity to move about, and a correctly fitted corset will permit the same freedom. The organs do not stay in the same position all the time (the fullness or otherwise of the stomach affects them, for instance) but are constantly sliding about on the slippery surface of the peritoneum, a membranous lining that exudes a thin smooth fluid which, like the oil of a machine, prevents friction. The peritoneum holds the organs in what might be called slings, attached to the abdominal walls. Peritonitis, a complaint of which most people have heard, is the inflammation of the peritoneum.
Speaking in general terms, the organs of the abdomen are mostly slung from the backbone, and the muscles, in addition to their more obvious work of controlling movement, have the task of resisting the continuous force of gravity, which tends to pull the organs forward and downward and so, in time, to deflect the spine from its natural, pliable curves into exaggerated, unsightly, and weak bulges. The function of corsetry is to supplement the efforts of weak muscles in this cause, and the introduction of elastic into corsetry over the past few decades has made it possible for corsets not only to augment the service of the muscles by holding firmly, but to do so while at the same time permitting movement.
It is not the function of corsetry, it must be repeated, to constrict. Women of earlier period, as related in Chapter II, used to wear rigid steel corsets with the deliberate purpose of restricting growth. What harm they did to themselves and their children is impossible now to assess, but we know from our own recollection, or from what our mothers and grandmothers have told us, that Victorian women, in a period of less rigid corseting, suffered from bad circulation and constipation, had the vapours, were anaemic, and were victims of a high tuberculosis rate. No wonder they were subject to tuberculosis! Any T.B. bacteria which got down into the lungs could live and multiply happily there in a stagnant, warm bed, never purified by deep breaths of fresh air.
The essence of modern corsetry is that it is never completely rigid. Rigid in certain places it may usefully be, but few corsets or deep brassieres are made now without some panels or gussets of elastic to allow for expansion and "give" in breathing and moving, with inestimable gain to the wearer in comfort as well as health,
Nothing has been said here about a very important part of the anatomy, from the corset fitter's point of view–the breasts. This is dealt with fully in Chapter XI, "The Importance of Brassieres."